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Changing role looms for Colts tight end Jack Doyle

Jack Doyle #84 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball during the game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on September 27, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Jack Doyle’s life changed – undeniably changed – in early March.

It was on March 7 that Doyle saw four years of keeping his head down and quietly, efficiently doing his job with the Indianapolis Colts result in financial security for his family. That came with a three-year, $19 million contract which funnels $8 million to him in the first year. Doyle’s compensation from his first four NFL seasons: $3.156 million.

Coach Chuck Pagano was asked if the hefty contract – suddenly Doyle, undrafted out of Western Kentucky in 2013, is the NFL’s 16th highest-paid tight end – has changed the former Cathedral High School standout.

“What do you think?’’ he said, smiling. “I think he’s still driving a Pinto or something.’’

Doyle was quick to refute his coach.

“I am not,’’ he said. “I am driving the same car.’’

We’re still waiting for a spending spree.

“I really haven’t, yet,’’ Doyle said. “I don’t really have hobbies in the sense of cars or things like that.

“I’m sure I’ll spend some money some time.’’

The serious uptick in Doyle’s off-the-field comfort level was immediately followed by a significant change in his responsibilities with the Colts.

The day after re-upping and avoiding the NFL’s free-agent market, Doyle became the veteran presence in the tight ends room. General manager Chris Ballard shipped mainstay Dwayne Allen and the remainder of his four-year, $29.4 million contract to New England.

In the span of four seasons, Doyle had advanced from No. 3 behind Allen and Coby Fleener to No. 2 behind Allen to the guy.

“Jack has emerged as a leader in his four seasons with this team and we’re thrilled he’ll be returning,’’ Ballard said at the time, adding Doyle was someone who exemplified the type of player the organization coveted.

“I was thankful he wanted me back,’’ Doyle said. “It’s definitely cool.

“It’s been a fun journey and excited to see where it’s going to go.’’

It’s also going to be interesting to see how Doyle’s role in the offense changes. Previously, Allen did more of the heavy-lifting work among tight ends. While he was an accomplished receiver, especially in the red zone, he often was used in pass protection and as an additional blocker in the running game.

That freed up Doyle to exploit underneath coverages. He’s coming off a 2016 season that saw his stats (59 receptions, 584 yards, 5 touchdowns) dwarf the combined numbers of his first three years (35, 209, 3).

Doyle emerged as quarterback Andrew Luck’s most trusted receiver. When targeting Doyle, Luck compiled a 110.2 rating and completed 78.6 percent of his passes.

Doyle delivered go-ahead TD catches in the closing minutes against Tennessee and Jacksonville and would have added a third game-winner in the season opener against Detroit (6-yard TD with 37 seconds to play) had the defense protected the 35-34 lead. In the upset at Green Bay, Doyle’s 20-yard reception on third-and-10 with 3 minutes remaining kept alive a drive that drained the clock.

“He’s a reliable, reliable guy,’’ Pagano said. “The quarterback has a ton of faith and trust in that guy.

“He’s always where he’s supposed to be and that makes a huge difference.’’

The difference between then and now, though, remains Doyle’s role. He’s no longer the complementary tight end. Moving forward, everyone – still-developing Erik Swoope, free-agent pickup Brandon Williams and rookies Mo Alie-Cox and Darrell Daniels – follows Doyle’s lead.

Pagano said Doyle made major strides as an in-line blocker last season, which boosted the team’s confidence that he would adequately replace Allen.

“Not only being pigeon-holed as an H-back,’’ Pagano said. “He can fill that role and also be a mismatch guy that gets open and catches a bunch of balls between the hashes and also play down the field in the seams, in the red area and outside the numbers.’’

All of that is to be determined. Whatever Doyle’s role proves to be, it will deviate from last season.

“Yeah, definitely the role will expand in some way, shape or form,’’ he said. “Just trying to be more of a leader in the tight end room and on the offensive side of the ball is something I’m trying to do and get better at.

“You never know what it’s going to turn out to be or what it’s going to look like going into the year.’’

Doyle said he and Swoope “are just trying to learn the different spots and what each one of us does best and the coaches see us do the different spots.

“They’ll figure out what we do well and try to put us in the best situation to be successful.’’